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Newsletter - Sept 2014

 
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PM Essence
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PM Essence

Simple Steps for Effective Project Communications Management

 

By Sameer Murdeshwar
Great communication is a Project Manager's most important skill. With teams facing a barrage of information at work, it is sometimes challenging for Project Managers .
 
to sustain an effective communication process with their teams and stakeholders. A well-constructed and executed Project Communications Plan can positively influence team motivation, and increase the level of purpose and dedication for projects. This article focuses on how a Project Manager can build an effective Project 
 
Communications Management plan for a project in four easy steps (Refer figure 1). It is based on the author's experience of working with diverse teams on various projects, speaking to many Project Managers and colleagues, and supplemented by general Project Management research.
 
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Step 1 –Planning Project Communications is done at the start of a project plan after stakeholder requirements for communications are identified, the type and format of communication needed is finalized, and a schedule is developed. Some factors to help build a plan are – Overall project structure Role of stakeholders Business units involved in the project Project team members and their responsibilities Type of communication for various audiences – customers, internal-only, and industry A typical Communications Plan contains the following elements (Refer Figure 2) –
 
Step 2 –Disseminating information helps ensures that the Communications Plan is implemented on schedule and that the right information reaches the right people. Building a communications matrix, a variation of the popular responsibility assignment or RACI matrix, can define the flow of project information from sender to receiver. A supporting tool is a robust information retrieval system, in the form of a secure and organized database, designed for faster access to project information. In any project, more than half the information is disseminated verbally. Maintaining project meeting notes and distributing them to attendees can help capture what was said in these meetings. Other formats to distribute information are hard-copy documents, emails, conferences, webinars, and internal websites.
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Step 3 - Reporting effectiveness and measurement helps keep stakeholders informed with the latest updates on the project's performance such as costs, schedules, project risk and project quality. Four popular reporting communications formats are –
 
Status reports on how the project is performing currently
 
Progress reports on the milestones achieved so far and details on pending activities
 
Forecasting and scoping reports to dict the end date for the project, with details on whether the project is being run within deadlines and constraints, predict the end date for the project, with details on whether the project is being run within deadlines and constraints
 
Quality and Risk reports on the results of quality testing and analysis, and risk identification and mitigation
 
To help define the process of project communications reporting and measuring communications effectiveness, inputs from the project plan can be taken. Another tip would be to document all activities and work results to prepare reports for teams. Performance review meetings can be scheduled to note down and measure the success of the project.
 
Step 4 - Closing project communications – At the end of each process as well as that of the whole project, closure is required to document results and receive a sign- off from stakeholders and customers. This step involves the following aspects –
 
Analysis of project's success / failure
 
Documentation of the project and its processes
 
Project archives
 
Lessons learned document for future reference
 
Clear, consistent and simple communications is key for a project to function efficiently. Keeping these steps in mind, a project manager can effectively ensure that the project has been executed and the final deliverable is in line with the expectations of stakeholders and the customer.
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PM Essence

How to Write an Angry Memo?

 

By - Heather Simmons, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We've all been there. Something unpleasant happens and you need to respond right away. Sit down and write that angry memo. Use every ounce of vitriol, and get all those aggressions down on paper. Now what? Put it in a drawer. 

 

This is the best career advice I ever received, and it came from my first boss. In my first professional position I had an office with a desk, an electric typewriter and a rotary-dial phone. It was a long time ago. But wait there's more . . .

 

Wait. Wait until you've calmed down. Wait for an hour, wait for a day, but wait. Now, write the memo again. It will be less angry. Put that one in the drawer. Write it again. Repeat. How do you know when to stop? After some number of drafts you will end up with a positive document instead of a negative one. Something along the lines of  "How can we work together to solve this problem?" Now you can send it. 

 

This is the written equivalent of counting to ten. Few people can sustain an intense level of negative emotion for very long.

 

Having written down your anger, you have worked through your frustration, and you are now ready to approach the problem constructively. And the more time that passes, the more you realize that there are two sides to every altercation.

 

Sending the angry memo (or email) will only exacerbate the problem, and you will almost certainly regret it from the moment you hit the "send" button. But you really don't want to make it worse, you want to fix it. So wait.

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PM Essence
 
A Reflection on the Project Management Principles for Construction Industry and IT Industry - A Case Study

Manjunatha, PMP
Project by definition in any field i.e. Construction or IT needs to have defined Start and end date. In my experience, when managing Construction and IT projects, there are some similarities and some differences. As a full-time IT professional, I got an opportunity to manage Project of constructing my own house. It's an excellent experience for me to manage the construction of two storied independent house along with the official responsibilities of managing IT Projects. The key challenge was to complete the construction within 12 months, with acceptable cost variance and good quality. By applying good Project Management Principles, I was able to complete this project successfully, meeting key challenges.
 
Let's look into the similarities and differences of managing construction and IT Projects by going through different phases of project.
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1. Initiating

a. Similarities:
I. Key decisions are to be made right at the beginning like selecting the Engineer, Architect, type of Contract etc. Similarly in IT Projects, key decisions include identifying stakeholders like Architects, Program Managers and Engineering Managers etc. 
 
ii. While identifying the Construction Engineer, we obtain multiple quotations and generally tempted to go with the least quotation. We don't study all the quotations in detail. In my experience, I did not go with the least quote as I enquired about the raw materials cost available in market and went with the quote which is in line with the market rates. Similarly in IT Projects, when we have the quotes from different vendors especially in MNCs having development activities spread across multiple locations, we need to use a more practical evaluation in deciding the best quote rather than go with the least quote.
 
2. Planning
 
a. Similarities:
I. Estimation needs to be as accurate as possible before execution else it would lead to a lot of delay and cost overrun during the execution and completion of the project.
 
ii. Spend sufficient time in planning. This will help to reduce the rework during execution, implementation and in completing the project on time. We had spent around 3 months on planning and had 6 different layout diagrams before we finalized the main one. Once finalized, created 3D View to have the reference for execution. Below is the 3D view example 
 
b. Differences:
I. In IT Projects, During Estimation of the project effort and cost normally we refer the past history of similar projects and take into account the buffer to have estimations. In case of Construction projects, this can be applicable only from schedule perspective but not for cost. We need to get the current market rates for the accurate cost estimation.
 
3. Execution
 
a. Similarities:
I. Quality comes with Cost. We always, need to have tradeoff between the Cost and Quality for Materials required for project. In construction the Major portion of budget goes in Steel, Granite, Wood and electrical items. In an IT Project, it is for License of Software's, Hardware's like Server, client etc. Above photos shows how the quality of the construction is carried out. We need to ensure that the good quality raw materials are procured at right time from right vendors. Also, the mason and his team should be well experienced in this type of project.
 
b. Differences:
I. When there is a rework at construction, it is very evident. It might be electrical wiring to be redone for UPS or working again on Tiles which were initially not  laid properly etc. Where as in the IT projects rework will not be so evident.
 
ii. Managing the team members in the construction project will be difficult as their maturity and behavior standards would vary from every individual as they are all from different background, where as in most of IT projects, people are matured and trained individuals and most importantly they are professionals at work place.
4. Monitoring & Control

a. Similarities
I. Always look for the Critical Path activities and give more importance to that. This is applicable in any type of project. Always give importance to the critical activity of the day.
 
ii. One of the main points to be noted in the Construction project, in particular for cost control, is to ensure that the Engineer we hire is well aware about the quality of raw materials available, its location and availability at reasonable cost otherwise, project will tend to have a high cost overshoot. This is one of the high Risk for the project.
 
In Case of IT projects, the knowledge about the product, domain by the Project Manager and the good architect will help in controlling the cost of the project.
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iii. Anticipate that there will always be risk of delay in raw material during execution of the project. For instance, there was delay in raw material availability  like Sand due to Strike from Sand suppliers Association. We had to use our buffers in terms of acceptable delays so that the strike will be withdrawn. It all depends  on your project priority and cost/schedule trade off
 
iv. Do expect there would be an increase in overall cost with respect to the planned at the end of the Construction project. This might be due to changes in the cost of raw materials or choosing a slightly higher cost material for better quality than originally planned. Similarly in IT Projects, Variation of cost could be due to large number of defects found during testing or late additional of scope which customer feels a must, not finding out the implicit requirements early.
 
b. Differences:
I. Cost spending from the beginning to the end of the project is different. In case of Construction, money spending will be very high towards end . Where as in IT, it  will be High during the execution and will come down during End.
 
ii. In construction project, we had a good Estimate with the defined quality .During execution; we tempted to do gold plating which leads to cost overshoot. Hence biweekly once, looked into the expenditure, status of completion with respect to cost, which gave lot of control on the cost. Normally in IT industry, the Cost will not play major role compare to schedule and quality during the execution unless it is a fixed cost project
 
5. Closing
 
a. Similarities
I. In Construction projects, the project completion is accompanied by the House warming celebration which is the tradition globally. Similarly in IT projects, we call it a release Celebration which is done by going for outing or having some gifts like T shirt, Bags with Project Names.
 
b. Differences:
I. In Construction projects, the End date of completion not only depends on the all planned work completion but also, on the good dates to carry out the House Warming as per calendar. In my case, the project could have been completed in 11 months; however we went slowly during completion as there were no good dates to have the House warming function.  In Case of IT Projects, There are no such dates we normally look for and depend on the need of the client.
 
To Summarize, project might be from different fields i.e. construction, IT project. What matters is, how efficiently and effectively the Project Management principles are inculcated in every step of the Project to excel finally.
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PM Essence
Innovation or R&D Project: How can we Manage the Conflict of Creative and Business Needs
 
- Soumen De, PMP

A R&D project undertaken by an enterprise will convert the idea (invention) into a commercial proposition (innovation). As the name R&D implies: R-Research is supposed to produce the new ideas or invention and DDevelopment is supposed to take the output of research and make it into a commercially viable product or service. In other words “D-Development” process converts invention into innovation.

 

The business context in which we operate can be best described by four terms – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA). Under this scenario if a company turnarounds research idea into a commercial proposition faster, the better it would be placed to sustain profitability.

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This is only possible if the company follows a structured process to carry out innovation. A simple process to carry out innovation can be represented as shown in figure 1.

 

The cycle time from Phase 1 to Phase 3 is getting shorter every year because of competitive pressures and VUCA factors mentioned earlier. A good innovation project needs 'novel' ideas (and related proof of concepts) which can only be done by incorporating high level of creativity. The question then comes up, can we get original creative or innovative ideas by bounding the project team with the constraints of time and cost. Can you define the scope of the idea “upfront” and still expect to get high levels of creativity. Think of asking a famous painter to make an 'original' painting for you by defining the time and scope and you can imagine the reaction you would get from her. But business cannot afford to give the unconstrained time/scope/cost to the innovation team to come out with the most innovative product. Company will then miss the bus by the time the innovation product comes out.

 

Can we bring out a very creative and innovative product by managing it with project management process? Will the Project Management processes that PM will adopt accelerate Innovation or stifle Creativity? Process tells people what to do—the actions, the order, and the expected results. A good process should have built in inspection, monitoring and control system that will acknowledge deviation from the 'expected' results. If the results are not as anticipated, the process is analyzed and altered to bring its results back to acceptable values. Neither the end product nor the granular breakdown of the steps will be known at the start of a typical radical Innovation project. If the end product is known or steps are absolutely clear at the beginning, then people (both internal and external) will not trust the 'novelty' of the new product. Besides, the KPI's for Researchers are not about compliance with the processes, but about churning out a 'novel' idea. So they would not  care about the processes proposed by the PM. 

 
So the skeptics would say, 'Process' not only stifles creativity, but also innovation, passion, imagination and creativity—as it should; otherwise, it would fail to serve a purpose of blooming a 'novel' idea. John Scully of Apple had rightly observed: “Management and creativity might even be considered antithetical states. While management demands consensus, control, certainty, and the status quo, creativity thrives on the opposite: instinct, uncertainty, freedom and iconoclasm” [5] 
 
Can the “Researcher” in Phase 1 come out with a viable idea within a finite time? Can the “Engineer” in Phase 2 convert the viable idea from Phase 1, into a prototype and then pilot it quickly to demonstrate business potential? Will the “Sales and Marketing” person in Phase 3 be able to get a promising customer response by commercializing the product prototyped in Phase2?
 
There are no easy answers to the questions highlighted above. Matter gets more complicated, when we realize that the Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) and motivating factors of a Researcher in phase 1 (see fig 1) may be completely different from the Engineer in phase 2. It is also a fact that the educational background of Researcher (typically Masters or Phd degree) will be always different from that of Engineer (typically Bachelors or Master degree). Another layer of challenge will come from the fact that the resources (Researchers, Engineers) PM has to manage will have a dual responsibility towards the functional manager and towards the PM.
 
Can the Innovation be managed better by adopting PM processes?
We know that a project is temporary endeavour that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. An innovation project team often includes people who don't usually work together and come from different functions across multiple geographies. This makes the team a highly matrixed team. The key to adopt a process to manage innovation is to acknowledge that the “ideas” have to move through an 'innovation funnel' to make it to commercialization. This is shown in figure 2.
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In figure 2, each 'square' represents an idea with its shade representing the amount of 'lack of clarity' or 'fuzziness' in the idea (color white representing that the idea has zero clarity to black representing idea having maximum clarity). As can be seen, in Phase 1, there will be many ideas especially those ideas which lacks clarity. It will be at times Researcher's 'free-expression-of-thought' and they will be profoundly attached to their ideas. While acknowledging those biases/preferences, PM has to still maximize the number of good ideas generated in Phase 1, and then follow an effective pruning process to take one or two ideas through the funnel into Phase 2. In Phase 2, the idea needs to be rapidly prototyped and risks uncovered. If necessary, the idea can go through several rounds of iteration with the team in Phase 1. Once it is robust enough and demonstrates business potential, the idea is pushed through the funnel for mass production and commercialization.

 

Given the different uncertainties involved, The PM can adopt the following project management framework (Steps 1 to 6) to maximize the chances to making the innovation project a success

 

Step1: Generate Project Definition

The PM should first identify whether it is a business innovation or technology innovation project. This will help her to identify the key stakeholders, timing priorities and identify the 'Big Picture” of the project to keep the team together.

 

Business Process Innovation

This describes how company creates, sells and delivers value to the customer. Business change can produce innovation in three distinct ways.

 

Value proposition – What is sold and delivered to the market

 

Supply Chain – How it is created and delivered to the market

 

Target Customer – To whom it is delivered

 

Technology Innovation



The common perception is that a good innovation is always a technology innovation. Technology change can produce innovation in three distinct ways.

 

Product and Service offerings – A new product or feature to cater to a customer need

 

Process Technologies - A new process or improvement in existing process to manufacture the product

 

Enabling Technologies – A new method or tool that can be applied in a suitable way to cater to a customer need

 

The PM needs to then understand if this is “Push” type or a “Pull” type innovation project. The “buy-in” from top management will always be stronger for the “Pull” type of innovation project

 

Push Innovation: Here the Researcher goes through existing literature and presents some fuzzy or 'high-level' idea of the technology that needs to be developed for a possible business benefit and requests for organizational resources to achieve that. Here the feasibility of the new idea is not very clear and needs some time to get

concretized.

 

Pull Innovation: Here the Management carries out some external environment scanning or competitive benchmarking and proposes development of a new technology. Here the management is already committed to the project deliverables and is ready to provide organizational resources to support the project. The feasibility of the new idea and relative documents are relatively clearer than the push method.

 

Step 2 - Project Organization and Staffing

Any organization will always try to deploy more resources for ongoing operations and much less for innovations as represented. So a PM needs to understand how many resources would be made available for the innovation project given the demand of organization to press more resources for 'operations' or routine work. PM needs to have a strong networking, especially with top management and influencing skills to impress the top management on the business criticality of the project, so that she gets most of her requested resources. If resources are difficult to get, PM can form a team having a mix of full timers versus part timers.

 

Step 3 – Project Management and Leadership

As we know the PM has to deliver the scope of the project and have the responsibility to satisfy the different needs: tasks needs, team needs and individual needs of both dedicated and shared team shown earlier in figure 4. Given the conflicting needs, PM can address them effectively by demonstrating a range of interpersonal skills such as leadership, influencing, political, trust building, negotiation etc. This is also useful for Step 2 needs. In order to accelerate the idea generation process and to make sure the idea will have less chances to 'fail' when handed over to Phase 2 team, the PM can involve the stakeholders from Phase 2 (who would  integrate the application) and Phase 3 (who would the end users of this application) early into the project. 

 

Step 4 – Problem Solving and Rapid Prototyping

If already not there, PM needs to generate Management “pull” in the project. Without this “pull” the PM will find herself going against the tide in trying to manage the different constraints, including need to balance the creativity and business needs. Once the 'Pull' process in enabled, the PM should be able to test out the presence of technical risk, if any by creating a flexible platform and staffing it with people who can work closely with Researchers from Phase 1. The mantra for the successful rapid prototyping would be to “Fail Early and Fail Cheap (FEFC)

 

Step 5 – Senior Management Review and Control

The Phase 1 stage may be internally divided into one or two more sub steps, and same may be the case with Phase 2 and Phase 3 stages. PM needs to seek Senior Management and project sponsor support through regular management review and control. Like many organization do suitable go/no decisions needs to be taken at each phase. This will make sure necessary course corrections are done if the project steers away from the management vision.

 

Step 6 – Real Time Monitoring and Mid- Course Control

The PM needs to continuously scan for deviations from original assumptions and investigate whether course corrections needs to happen. Small deviations can be addressed by updating project management plan. However large deviations needs to be communicated to key stakeholders and a consensus needs to be achieved on whether those deviations can be best addressed by adjustment of project management plan or by winding up the present project and starting it all over again as a new project as  shown in figure 3. 

 

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Sometime starting all over again has more merit than providing Band- Aid fixes. But PM needs to make sure she gets to this decision point (of starting all over again) fast enough before lots of organization investment has been made. Refer FEFC mantra of Step 4.

 

Summary

Critics argue how one plan certainty of the R&D project outcome when the project by its very definition needs one to explore the possible results. What they don't realize is that those structures can actually enhance creativity, if the processes and the metric to measure those processes are built in the right way. The inherent uncertainty in R&D projects is more of a reason to plan than to avoid it. 

 

Reference- Balancing the creativity need and the business need of a R&D or Innovation project with project management [PMI National Conference 2013]